Tuesday, June 4, 2019
Thursday, April 25, 2019
by Rabbi Tzvi Abraham
Chad gadya. Chad gadya.
That Abba bought for two zuzim, Chad gadya. Chad gadya.
Then came a cat and ate the goat, That Abba bought for two zuzim, Chad gadya. Chad gadya.
Then came a dog and bit the cat, that ate the goat, That Abba bought for two zuzim, Chad gadya. Chad gadya.
Then came a stick and beat the dog, that bit the cat, that ate the goat, That Abba bought for two zuzim, Chad gadya. Chad gadya.
Then came fire and burnt the stick, that beat the dog, that bit the cat, that ate the goat, That Abba bought for two zuzim, Chad gadya. Chad gadya.
Then came water and quenched the fire, that burnt the stick, that beat the dog, that bit the cat, that ate the goat, That Abba bought for two zuzim, Chad gadya. Chad gadya.
Then came the ox and drank the water, that quenched the fire, that burnt the stick, that beat the dog, that bit the cat, that ate the goat, That Abba bought for two zuzim, Chad gadya. Chad gadya.
Then came the shochet and slaughtered the ox, that drank the water, that quenched the fire, that burnt the stick, that beat the dog, that bit the cat, that ate the goat, That Abba bought for two zuzim, Chad gadya. Chad gadya.
Then came the Angel of Death and killed the butcher, that slaughtered the ox, that drank the water, that quenched the fire, that burnt the stick, that beat the dog, that bit the cat, that ate the goat, That Abba bought for two zuzim, Chad gadya. Chad gadya.
Then came the Holy One, Blessed be He and slew the Angel of Death, that killed the butcher, that slaughtered the ox, that drank the water, that quenched the fire, that burnt the stick, that beat the dog, that bit the cat, that ate the goat, That Abba bought for two zuzim, Chad gadya. Chad gadya.
Chad Gadya beckons interpretation. It’s the concluding song of the Seder and that’s the key. What do we expect from the final paragraph of an essay, or the conclusion of a play? Something that wraps it up and puts in perspective. That’s what Chad Gadya does.
The Haggadah is much more than the story of the Exodus. It a bird’s eye view of Jewish history, not as a secular historian would see it, but as a sacred historian would see it: as an unfolding of the spiritual destiny of Klal Yisrael, from the beginning, when “our Fathers served idols,” to the end, as we pour a cup for the prophet who will herald the coming of the Moshiach and petition (שפוך חמתך) for the manifestation Divine Justice that will mark the transition from the world we know to the world to come, in which all nations will revere Hashem and honor His Chosen People. Chad Gadya identifies the essential motifs of the religious experience that drives our history.
Chad Gadya – One kid goat that Abba bought of two zuzim (Emunah)
The kid goat represents the Jewish People, which Hashem (Abba) acquired by bringing Bnei Yisrael to Mount Sinai and giving them the Two Tablets of the Law (The two zuzim).
Then came a cat and ate the goat (Kefirah)
The kid goat (the Jewish People ) is set apart from the nations by the emunah instilled at Sinai. The opposite of emunah (revealed faith) is the kefirah of the rationalist who scoffs at anything that cold reason cannot comprehend or ascertain. That scornful, cold intellect is represented by the “shunra,” the wild cat who hunts by stealth and pounces with cunning, killing the kid without compassion.
Then came a dog and bit the cat (The Longing Heart that finds no Peace in Kefirah)
The Hebrew word for dog is kelev, meaning “like the heart,” and that’s what the dog represents, here: the heart, with its longing for love. The enmity between the dog and the cat is the struggle between the longings of the heart and the cold discipline of the intellect. The dog bites the cat because the longing for love, both human and Divine, is the greatest challenge to the rationalist spirit. For some, Judaism is more a matter of the heart; for others, more a matter of the mind. The tension between heart and mind has been a driving force in Jewish history (consider, for example, the rise of Hassidism).
Then came a stick and beat the dog (Torah Disciplines the Heart with Practice and Images)
The stick disciplines the dog. The dog is the heart that longs for love. Unless that longing is guided and disciplined by reason informed by emunah (i.e., Torah), that longing for love will turn to things that are hateful. But how does reason address the heart? Through images and practice (i.e. halachah). They are compared, here, to the stick that disciplines the dog. Without that stick, the heart may entirely reject authority of reason, and descend into the chaos of whim and irrationalism.
Then came fire and burnt the stick (When Mystical Passion Chafes at Halachic Restraint)
The Transcendent Glory of Hashem is revealed through an interior union (d’vekus) unmediated by images, for just as Hashem transcends all things, we know Him most perfectly when we move beyond anything that an image can convey. The mystical passion that aspires to that interior union is the fire that burns the stick (the images and practice) that beat the dog (discipline the heart). When mystical passion “burns the stick,” the communication based on images which reconciles the heart and the mind breaks down, so the heart, swept up in the religious passion of the spirit, can feel constrained by the discipline of religious practice. The result is antinomianism: the rejection of Law and religious authority in favor of religious experience. That can happen on the highest levels, and analogously, in people who have no real knowledge of Hashem, but reject religious law and authority because they feel that it just “gets in the way.” The tension between religious passion and halachic restraint is another dynamic component of Jewish history.
Then came water and quenched the fire (Body and Soul)
Few are fired with desire to know the Transcendent Glory of Hashem, because that fire is so readily extinguished by the flow of feelings and natural impulses that carry them away like an untethered raft on rapids. Those feelings and impulses are suggested by the water that that “quenches the fire that burned the stick.”
Then came the ox and drank the water (The Demands of the Body)
The ox is the natural life of every Jew sustained by the inner flow of natural inclinations. Much as the ox would die without water, the Jew could not live the human life Hashem created him to have without partaking in the “water” --the flow-- of his natural inclinations. The ox drinking water represents the man preoccupied with his natural inclinations.
Then came the shochet and slaughtered the ox (Using the Body in the Service of the Soul)
If we are oxen, we are not only oxen, for we have a Divine Soul. The ox is nourished from below. The Divine Soul is nourished from above. They tug us in opposite directions. How can we avoid being pulled apart? The answer lies in the will, and the single most fundamental choice we can make: the ultimate purpose of whatever we do to feed and care for that ox.
A person can work with the purpose of living in luxury or he can work for the purpose of supporting his family and giving more charity. The choice to serve that higher purpose is the spiritual choice of avodas Hashem that yokes the ox to the service of the soul. The shochet personifies that choice, reciting a blessing and fulfilling a mitzvah while slaughtering the ox for flesh to feed the body. The death of the ox signifies the transfiguration of the physical through everyday tasks when they are done with a higher purpose, so that the efforts we make to feed the body also feed the soul. That higher purpose is like the fire that transforms animal flesh into the sweet fragrance of sacrifice that ascends to Hashem from the altar.
Then came the Angel of Death and killed the shochet (Sin and its Consequences)
But the consecration of everyday tasks is not unobstructed. Adam was made to live forever. He died because he sinned. Just as we still die, we still sin, and the impulse to sin which Adam’s sin implanted makes it hard to lift our hearts to a higher purpose. And so we are torn between an ox that forages the fields and a soul that forages the Heavens. Will it always be like that? Are we condemned to live forever frustrated in our avodah by the leaven of sin and an ox that bellows for the pleasures of his greens?
Then came the Holy One, Blessed be He and slew the Angel of Death (Hope and Redemption)
No! The sin of man brought death to a creature that was made to live forever. Hashem won’t allow that sin to nullify His purpose of creating an immortal being that dwells in a temporal world. Someday He will restore the creature He made in His Image and debased himself with sin to his original dignity. And then, the descendants of Adam will live forever, their soul suffused like Adam’s in the Garden by an Eternal Light that penetrates through his soul to his body and nourishes it from above, so that the tick- tock of time in the natural world no longer measures the length of his days.
Wednesday, April 24, 2019
Saturday, April 20, 2019
April 23, 2019; 18 Nisan 6:30 PM Mincha
Where: B'nai Brak, 25 Ben Yaakov St., very near the Coke factory, first stop on bus
Wednesday, March 6, 2019
Parshas Pikudei – Mishkan times: its Completion and Construction
M’soret Askenaz goes back a very long time, and going back to the 12th century,we find a mystical movement that is truly our own: Chassidut Ashkenaz, which consolidates the ancient mystical tradition of Chazel.
That tradition has been preserved in the writings of two Gedolei Yisrael: R’ Yehudah Hachassid (best known as the author of Sefer Chassidim), and R’ Elazar Hagadol of Worms (“the Rokeach) his illustrious talmid. R’ Elazar was a prolific writer of siphrei halachah, kabbalah and commentaries, including a multi-volume commentary on the Torah.
In his commentary on this week’s parsha, R’ Elazar points out (citing the psikta Rabbasi ) that although the Mishkan was set up on the first of Nissan, the work of creating its many parts was completed on the 25th of Kislev. Indeed, the gematria of the words is the same as -- one of the Rokeach’s many astounding gematrias.
The gematria suggests that the completion of the parts of the Mishkan (as opposed to its construction) on the first day of Chanukah was not by chance or for any accidental reason: for Hashem created the world “looking into the Torah.”
When the work of the Mishkan would be completed was also part of the Master Plan.
Why did Hashem ordain that it be completed just then? Why did Moshe delay setting it up until Nissan even though the people were complaining to him, saying: “Why the delay? Is there a problem with it?”
The midrash (cited by the Rokeach) explains that Hashem delayed setting up the Mishkan until Nissan so that the joy of the Mishkan would be celebrated in the month of Yitzchak’s birth. What about the month of Kislev? Did it lose out entirely? No. there would be another chanukas habayis, and it would take place in Kislev.
when a person is born, an angel with his face is created in Heaven. The next level down from the heavenly sphere, the domain of angels, is the planetary sphere, and there the newborn also appears, for his nature is configured by the arrangement of the planets . (Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world). As above, so below. This principle applies to everything Hashem created. For, for example, the Rokeach tells us,
Since the timing of the construction of the Mishkan is in the Torah, the same principle applies: “as above so below” and we would expect some indication of it in the heavenly and planetary spheres. And, indeed, he tells us that while Moses was setting up the Mishkan below, the Angels were setting up a Mishkan above. As above, so below.
Where do we see a suggestion of the timing of the construction of the Mishkan in the planetary sphere?
In the fact that the Mishkan was constructed in the sign of Aries, the zodiacal sign of Chodesh Nissan. “It was the reason that the fire of the Shekhinah descended onto the Mishkan.”
“It was the reason…,” the Rokeach tells us. What was the reason? That the sign of Aries is identified with fire? (Each of the 12 signs of the Zodidac is associated with one of the four elements: fire, earth, air or water.) But it’s not the only fire sign. Sagittarius, the sign of Kislev, is also a fire sign. us in his Commentary on Sefer Yetzira that Mars is Dovid Hemelech and the spirit of the Moshiach. The fire of Mars is the fire of King David’s devotion to Hashem and the fire of the spirit of Moshiach. So is Leo. But Aries is the sign ruled by a planet, Mars, that is itself identified with fire: the Rokeach tells
But what does the descent of the Divine fire that consumed the flesh on the altar have to do with a fiery planet or a fiery zodiacal sign?
There are two other fire signs: Sagittarius and Leo, but the planet that activates the fire of Sagittarius, Jupiter, is moderate by nature, and, besides that, Sagittarius moves directly into the cold and dark of winter which begins with the sign of Capricorn, ruled by the coldest of the planets, Saturn.
Leo is a summer sign that is ruled by the Sun, which is moderately and generally benignly hot. The heat and radiance of the Sun is the vitality of created being which expresses itself with the gentleness that brings forth grains, fruits and flowers. Not Mars. Mars is the heat of redemption and revelation, a fire that heats the spirit, not the flesh: the sword of David and the passion of his Psalms. It doesn’t nourish: it transfigures. The Sun brings forth new life from the ground, Ma’adim bestows new Light from above with a fire that burns through the boundaries that keep men in darkness and separate this world from the worlds above.
The sign of Sagittarius, which correlates with the month of Kislev, and is a fire sign, is ruled by Jupiter . Rokeach identifies Jupiter with Aharon Hakohen. That would seem to make Sagittarius the perfect time to set up the Mishkan and for the Shekhinah to descend as a fire from above onto the altar. But the chanukas habayis that would later happen in Keslev would be initiated from below by the Kohanim. The Kohen’s task is to reconcile Bnei Yisrael with Hashem and, in that way, help them return to Him. But the chanukas habayis of Moshe--the construction of the Mishkan--was initiated from above, and denotes the moment of G-d descending to dwell among Bnei Yisrael. The chanukas habayis of the Maccabiim was a moment of teshuvah. The chanukas habayis of Moshe was a moment of geula. That’s why it had to happen in the sign of Aries (Nissan) under the planet of Ma’adim, the planetary analogue to the Moshiach and to Dovid Hamelech and the month of geula.
Hashem ordained at the very dawn of creation, indeed, even before: as part of his plan of creation, that the spring sign of Aries would rule the time when the Divine Fire of His Transcendent Being would break through the barriers that separate Heaven and earth and his Shekhinah would dwell among us. While the gentle heat of the Sun’s fire banishes the cold and darkness of winter, the fire of Mars would burn through the barriers that separate men from the world above and redeem them from the darkness of their hearts.
The Rokeach also gives us another reason why the construction of the Mishkan was delayed until Nissan: Hashem wanted us to rejoice in the construction of the Mishkan at the same time that Avraham and Sarah rejoiced in the birth of Yitzchak.
The midrash explains that Yitzchak’s blindness goes back to the Akeidah. Acording toBereishis Rabbah ( ) Yitzchak grew blind because he had gazed upon the Shekchinah. According to Rashi he was blinded by the tears of angels that fell into his eyes while lying on the altar. That, too, suggests that he was blinded by what he saw: his eyes received something from the eyes of angels, so that his vision participated in theirs.
Yitzchak’s birth was like the construction of the Mishkan, because it created the location where, later, on the altar of the Akeida, a fire – a great vision and holy light—would descend into him as he beheld the Schekhinah, or as the angels opened his eyes with their tears . Just as the avodah of the Miluim was the spiritual preparation for the descent of the fire of the Shekhinah onto the altar, the Akedah was the spiritual preparation for the descent of the Shekhinah as a spiritual fire that would later cause Yitzchak to go blind on account of what he saw.
In the Sefer Habahir we learn that compared to the Light above, the Light of this world is like darkness. Perhaps that’s why Yitzchak became blind: as he became older and withdraw from the concerns of this world, he focused his attention on the Light above, and entered the vision he received unrestrained by worldly responsibilities. And for those who see that Light, the light below is like darkness. He lost the sight of his eyes because vision depends on seeing a light in the light of this world. To him, that light was darkness.
Tuesday, December 4, 2018
The Candles of the Menorah
by Tzvi Avraham
Chanukah is a good time to ponder the meaning of the Menorah in the Temple, both because the eight Chanukah lights commemorate a miracle that happened to the seven branched Menorahת and because of the profound connection between the two suggested by the midrash cited by Rashi[i] that when Aharon was distressed by not participating in the offerings of the Nasiim at the initiation of the Ohel Moed, Hashem consoled him telling him that he was destined to something greater: the mitzvah of the Menorah, which the Ramban explains was intended to suggest the Chanukah Menorah.
The Midrah Tidasheh of R. Chaninah ben Dusah[ii] describing how the entire creation is suggested by features and kalim of the Beis Hamikdosh, tells us that the 7 candles of the Menorah are identified correspond to the seven planets, i.e., the seven planets visible without a telescope known in ancient times: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury, and the Moon. (The ancients numbered the Sun and the Moon among the planets.) That interpretation is also found in the Targum Yonasan.[iii]
The medieval Castilian mekubal Yosef Gikitilia also mentions it in his sefer Ginas Egoz[iv] while declaring, in keeping with midrashim and the opinions of most Rishonim, including Rabbeinu Elazar Hagadol, Harokeach, the Ramban[v], the Nimukei Yosef[vi], the Ran[vii] among others that “without a doubt,” the influence of planets governs the world subject to Hashem’s supervision and control. The seven candles, he tells us, correspond to the seven planets, and he invites the reader to ponder their deeper meaning. Let’s take up that task tonight, because we have help at hand: the interpretation of the planets which Rabbeinu Elazar Hagadol, the Rokeach, gives in his commentary on Sefer Yetzirah.
Everyone knows that Avraham Avinu was an astrologer. It’s even mentioned by Rishonim as a decisive justification of astrology. So it’s no surprise that Sefer Yetzirah, which was written by Avraham Avinu, has a considerable astrological content. In the fourth chapter, which discusses the creation of the planets, the Rokeach gives us his interpretation of the planets while explaining why each is assigned to rule its specific day and night of the week. His discussion of the planets complements the considerable and detailed astrological science in his magnum opus, Sod Razei. His astrological science is substantially the same as the Ibn Ezra’s – (Ibn Ezra was a renowned astrologer and wrote 12 treatises on astrology, some of which were translated into Latin and had a profound impact on the western tradition of astrology.) but his interpretations express ancient traditions transmitted to him through his Rebbe, R’ Yehudah HaChasid, his father, R. Yehudah b’rebbe Kolonimus - (so he tells us in his introduction to Sodei Razei and at the end of his commentary on Sefer Yetzirah) - a kabalistic tradition which flowered in the 12th and 13thcenturies in Germany which we now call Chissidus Ashkenaz.
Saturn[viii], he tells us, is, as all agreed, the most distant of the planets. The ancient and medieval astrologers used the terms hot and cold, wet and dry when they described the nature of the planets, and Saturn, all agreed, is cold and dry. But the Rokeach explains why. Saturn is located just below the upper waters that are cold to protect the world from the heat of the angelic worlds above them. That cold is what makes him cold. Dry? He leaves that to us, but its pretty clear to me: His dryness is his thirst: he thirsts to know the world above the upper waters, and, for that reason, has little interest in worldly matters and tends to exercise his typically “gvuradik” influence that would induce us to turn from them to higher things. Saturn, the Rokeach adds, is Moshe Rabbeinu.
Jupiter is the next planet, just below Saturn. He is moderately warm and moderately moist, i.e., he has the qualities that promote life and virtue. He is universally identified with all the endeavors and institutions that promote prosperity and express the dignity of man. I like to think of Jupiter as turning the vision of Saturn into the spiritual ideals that bring dignity and prosperity to all who live by them. And I think that the Rokeach would agree, for he identifies Jupiter with Moshe’s brother, Aharon Hakohen, Kohen Gadol and celebrated for his compassion and pursuit of peace. He personifies the dignity of man in the service of Hashem.
After Jupiter, Mars. Mars is what we’d expect Mars to be, and what he is for Chazal: choleric, inclined to violence and aggression: the spirit of the soldier. But also the virtues of the soldier: the obedience, courage, persistence determination, decisiveness. And we need that, for that’s the kind of strength it takes to fulfill the ideals of Jupiter in this dark and chaotic world. Mars, the Rokeach tells us, is David Hamelech and the spirit of the Moshiach.
After Mars, the Sun.
The Sun is malchus, but not just any malchus, for three letters of Hashem’s name are inscribed on him. He is the proximal source of the warmth that sustains life and light that bestows sight, which is why he rules the first hour of the erev yom chimishi, when animals of all kinds were created.[ix] We might think of the light of the Sun as the shadow of Hashem’s Majesty.
Just below the Sun: Venus. The Rokeach’s description of Venus might be summarized as: the love of life that Hashem brings forth through the heat and light of the Sun. L’chaim!
Below Venus: Mercury. Every night of the week is ruled by one of the planets. Mercury rules Motzei Shabbos, erev yom rishon, the Rokeach tells us, because Mercury represents the chochmah with which Hashem created the world on the evening following the Shabbos that preceded the creation of the world.
And then the Moon, who governs leyl vav, i.e., Thursday night, because the Moon has the power to incline the heart to good or to evil, and it was then that Hashem thought of creating man with the freedom to do good and evil.[x] That is, the Moon which moves to good or evil also represents the freedom human beings have to choose to do good or to choose to do evil, for “just as Hashem gave power and dominion to the planets to exercise a good or evil influence, He gave power and dominion to man to subdue his natural impulses, and do what is good and right in the eyes of Hashem.” [xi]
The Rokeach tells us that the planets govern the entire natural order, even the heart—but not the will, and what he describes, with his interpretation of the planets, are the seven principles that govern the created world and the heart (though not the will) of man, for whom the world was created.
1. The spiritual longing to know the truths of Heaven and the joy of the angels—i.e., the Love of Hashem that makes it hard for a person to see any value in the pleasures of this world—Saturn
2. The ideals which move us to live in this world in a way that is worthy of that vision—Jupiter
3. The determination and drive to implement those ideals against the resistance of the dark forces that resist them--Mars
4. The creative force which brings forth the life of this world in which Hashem so delights—the Sun
5. Delight in this life brought forth by Hashem as a gift to all creatures—Venus
6. The understanding of world--the understanding of life--that empowers us to use the world and manage our lives to fulfill the Divine purpose of creation—Mercury
7. The freedom of will which introduces responsibility, merit, the possibility of sin, and the powers of darkness with which man must contend—the Moon
Even more succinctly:
1. The yearning to be close to Hashem – Saturn
2. The ideals and moral standards inspired by that yearning – Jupiter
3. The determination to implement those ideals - Mars
4. The creativity that brings forth a world in which those ideals are to be realized – the Sun
5. Delight in that world as a gift from Hashem – Venus
6. The wisdom and discernment that enables a person to use that world to serve its divinely ordained purpose - Mercury
7. The moral freedom which gives meaning and purpose to the operations of these principles – the Moon
I’ve described these seven principles as spiritual forces while identifying them with the planets. That may be confusing: do they govern the heart or do they govern the world?
The answer is that they are the powers which are the essential expression of created existence itself. Man is a microcosm: the powers which are the essential expression of created existence are the very same powers which govern his human nature.
These are spiritual powers (matter is governed by spirit) and spiritual powers are not mediated by things that are merely physical. There’s no reason to think that the Rokeach would take issue with Rambam’s description of the planets in Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah (3:9): They are
בעלי נפש ודעה והשכל הם והם חיים ועומדים ומכירין את מי שאמר והיה העולם כל אחד ואחד לפי גדלו ולפי מעלתו משבחים ומפארים ליוצרם כמו המלאכים וכשם שמכירין הקדוש ברוך הוא כך מכירין את עצמן ומכירין את המלאכים שלמעלה מהן ודעת הכוכבים והגלגלים מעוטה מדעת המלאכים וגדולה מדעת בני אדם
Clearly, the planets are good. There is nothing evil in them. Nevertheless, according to the Rokeach, the Ibn Ezra and all medieval astrologers, planetary influences can be destructive and even evil, according to their locations in the heavenly sphere and relations to each other. The otherworldliness of Saturn can turn into world rejection; the dignity of Jupiter into arrogance; the martial spirit of David into cruelty and hatred; the light and heat of the sun that brings forth life can also destroy it.
Jeremiah tells the people (10:2)
ב כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה, אֶל-דֶּרֶךְ הַגּוֹיִם אַל-תִּלְמָדוּ, וּמֵאֹתוֹת הַשָּׁמַיִם, אַל-תֵּחָתּוּ: כִּי-יֵחַתּוּ הַגּוֹיִם, מֵהֵמָּה
Learn not the way of the nations, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the nations are dismayed at them.
Why should they not fear them? The Malbim explains, the pagan nations are subject to the influence of the planets, but not you, for so long as you are live true to the ways of Hashem, You are governed by Him, and He will intervene to moderate their influence in accordance with his judgment.
How then, can they exercise an evil, destructive influence?
The Rokeach explains Divine government through the planets, and the Maggid of Mezritch, as the Bnei Yisaschar summarizes his doctrine, says substantially the same thing[xii]: When Hashem created the world, He surveyed the entire history of man, and ordained from the very beginning the way each person’s life would be directed according to his nature. So long as person conducts himself according to his nature, doing averas when he is, by nature, so inclined, and doing mitzvahs insofar as he is, by nature, so inclined, he will live subject to the Divine Government Hashem established b’maaseh b’reishis when, knowing his nature and foreseeing his behaviour, Hashem placed the planets in their orbits to be located and to interact in a way which subjects him to the appropriate governing influence, presumably an influence that would subject him to experiences that would move him to take his life in hand and make the effort to serve Hashem for which he was created.
For Hashem created us to do teshuvah, i.e., to do more than what we are inclined by nature to do to serve Him. Clearly, when a person fails to do that, he needs a push, perhaps even a shock (though, of course, sometimes he needs is an extra measure of chesed). That push or shock will likely come in the form of an existential challenge, perhaps even a crisis, which lifts him out the indifference of a person who serves Hashem according to the flow of his inclinations. What is called the evil influences of the planets is the gevurah that causes that to happen, the experience of gevurah that awakens a person to teshuvah.
Hashem foresaw the need for that gevurah, and programmed it into the revolutions of the planets, so that each one of us would get a taste of it as it would be required. But when the time comes, if Hashem sees that a person doesn’t need to be treated with gevurah, that he doesn’t need a shock to awaken him, He protects him from it and moderates the gevurah the planets would have exercised, or turns it into achesed. With that in mind, let’s consider the mitzvah of lighting the Temple Menorah.
In Temple times, when a person did teshuvah for an averah, he would typically bring a korban. The animal that was shechted and burned on the altar represented the body of the one who brought it, the repository of his natural inclinations and evil inclinations which moved him to sin. The act of sacrifice gave them up to the will of Hashem, subordinated his natural impulses and willfulness to the Will of the Creator and King.
The kohen’s role of setting up the wicks and filling the cups with oil is comparable to his role of performing the physical part of offering a sacrifice. Only he can set the flesh of the sacrifice on fire—place it onto the fire burning on the altar – because the purpose of that fire is to extract from the flesh the pleasing fragrance that ascends to Hashem. His act symbolically purified the body that had served the sinful will of the person who brought the sacrifice. He was the instrument of that symbolic purification.
But that sacrifice had to be lit, as a candle is lit, with another fire before the sacrifice would find favor: the fire that purifies a sinful will. That fire, of course, is the teshuvah that ignites the heart with the glowing ember of a burning soul, so that it bursts into flame as it beholds the Light of Truth and Goodness. Even a Yisrael--the one who brought that sacrifice for his sin - could light that fire.
Each candle corresponds to one of the planets, one of the seven fundamental forces that are the essential expression of created existence – nature—coordinated, orchestrated by Hashem b’ma’aseh breishis to govern the lives of every Jew who acts as he is naturally inclined, whether to do mitzvos or to do averos.
Lighting the candles (which is not an avodah and can be done by any Jew) is comparable to the interior act of teshuvah which ignites the heart with a Light which transforms it, inspires and guides it to a love for Hashem that serves Him without consideration of natural inclinations.
The purpose of burning the oil is not to offer a pleasing fragrance to Hashem – if it were, it would be an avodah that only a Kohen may do—but rather to produce a fire and light like the fire and light which inspire the heart to teshuvah when bringing a sacrifice. That fire is the flame of the Glory that governs all those who proclaim it, governing them directly, setting aside the order of Divine government that operates through the planets which the candles represent. That Light, concealed in the oil, is now revealed, that all may know and be assured: אין עוד מלבדו … השם הוא האלוקים!
The candles of the Menorah burned from evening to the morning with one exception: the Ner Ma’aravi, which was to be kept burning throughout the day, relit in the morning if it had gone out. But during the Kehunah Gedolah of Shimeon Hatzaddik, the Ner Hama’aravinever went out. It always miraculously continued to burn straight though from evening to the evening of the next day. The merit of Shimeon Hatzaddik was so great, that the Ner Ma’aravi didn’t have to be relit in the morning. Hashem kept it lit it for us. That was the miracle of the Ner Ma’aravi.
Which of the seven candles was the Ner Ma’aravi? There are three opinions: It was the first candle of the Menorah closest to the Kodesh Hakadoshim; the middle candle, or the second from the candle furthest east. Each of these candles represented a different planet. Applying the Rokeach’s explanation of their meaning, we might interpret this machlokes as a disagreement in Hashem’s response to the merit of Shimeon Hatzaddik.
The first candle would correspond to the first planet, Saturn. If the miracle occurred on the first candle, i.e., if Hashem sustained the light of the first candle, it would mean that Hashem responded to Shimeon Hatzaddik’s merit with a gift of what Saturn, i.e., Moshe, would give us: a gift of Torah, by bestowing an extra measure of the Light of Torah on his generation
The middle candle corresponds to the Sun. If Hashem kindled the middle candle, it would mean that Hashem responded to Shimeon Hatzaddik’s merit with a gift of what the Sun represents: the Light of His Presence and Majesty.
The second to the last candle corresponds to the Mercury. If Hashem kindled that second candle, it would mean that Hashem responded to Shimeon Hatzaddik’s merit with a gift of what the Mercury represents: the knowledge, insight and discernment that enables us to order our lives and create the things through which we live in the ways that best serve the ultimate purpose of our lives: avodas Hashem.
The miracle of Chanukah was that Hashem kept all seven candles lit for eight days—a miracle much like the miracle of the Ner Ma’aravi in Shimeon Hatzaddik’s time. Shimeon Hatzaddik’s tzidkus was such a great testimony to Hashem’s Malchus, that once the Ner Ma’avi was lit, Hashem kept it lit as a proclamation of His Malchus: His rule over the planet which the Ner Ma’aravi represented, and with that the assurance that the active principle it mediated would be implemented by Him to maximize the welfare of Klal Yisrael.
The miracle we celebrate when lighting the Chanukah Menorah was similar, only on a much greater scale corresponding to the much greater scale of the declaration of Hashem’s Malchus by the m’sirus nefesh of the Maccabim. It was dramatic demonstration that when we kindle our hearts with the Light of Torah and turn ourselves to Hashem, He turns to us and keeps those Lights burning, doing for us far more than what we could do for ourselves: for when we transform ourselves for Hashem, He transforms the world for us.
[i] במדבר ח:א
[ii] Perek 1
[iii] סדר פקודי מ"ג
[iv] הוצאות ישיבת החיים והשלום תשמ"ט דף רלז
[v] See, for example, his commentary on the name א-ל ש-די (בראשית יז:א)
[vi] טור קעט
[vii] See the eighth and eleventh droshos in דרשות הר"ן
[viii] The following interpretations of planets are found in his commentary on Sefer Yetzirah, esp. on pages 48-52
[ix] SY 52
[x] SY 52
[xi] Commentary on SY 71
[xii] See ספר בני יששכר מאמרי ר"ח מאמר א'